Witnesses laud Army general as sex case winds down

MICHAEL BIESECKER Associated Press Published:

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- An Army general who admitted to inappropriate relationships with three subordinates was described as a selfless leader by fellow officers on Wednesday during testimony that the defense hopes will lead to a lenient sentence.

The sentencing hearing for Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was expected to wrap up in the afternoon after his lawyers finished calling witnesses and delivered a closing argument. Prosecutors will have a chance for a short rebuttal, then a judge will decide the general's fate. Whether he will deliberate for minutes or days is not known.

Sinclair faces a maximum of 21 ½ years in prison and dismissal from the Army, but will likely wind up with a far less severe punishment.

The judge will give Sinclair a sentence that can't exceed terms in the agreement struck between defense lawyers and military attorneys over the weekend, but has not been made public. The judge will make his own decision before unsealing the agreement, and Sinclair will receive whichever is the more lenient punishment.

The general admitted he mistreated a captain under his command during a three-year affair and had improper relationships with two other women. He also pleaded guilty to adultery -- a crime in the military -- as well as using his government-issued credit card to pay for improper trips to see his mistress and other conduct unbecoming an officer.

The 51-year-old general had been accused of twice forcing the female captain under his command to perform oral sex during the three-year extramarital affair, but the sexual assault charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Defense lawyers used their final group of witnesses to focus on the 27-year Army career that took Sinclair from the small West Virginia town where he grew up in a family of modest means to a position leading thousands as deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne. By late morning, the defense had made it through half of the 10 witnesses they planned to call Wednesday.

Col. Kenneth Kelly, who's currently based in Tokyo, served under Sinclair in Iraq and praised his leadership.

"He was selfless. He was always more concerned about what his soldiers were doing than his bosses," Kelly said.

One of the general's brothers, Clark Sinclair, testified that their parents taught them to work hard and be respectful.

The older Sinclair, who works for the FBI, said his brother told him when the scandal erupted that he would hear things that weren't true about the longtime Army officer. But Jeffrey Sinclair also took responsibility, he said.

Clark Sinclair quoted his brother as saying: "'I messed up as a commander. I had an affair. I don't deserve to be a commander.'"

Prosecutors have countered some of the witnesses by asking them whether a true leader would ask subordinates for nude pictures -- behavior that Sinclair has admitted to.

Sinclair's sentencing comes as the military and Congress grapple with the problem of sex crimes in the military. To better protect victims within the ranks, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation last week to ban the "good-soldier defense" to ensure that a defendant's fate is determined solely by evidence. The House has signaled it won't take up the bill immediately despite momentum generated by the Senate vote.

On Tuesday, prosecutors called two final witnesses, including Lt. Col. Benjamin Bigelow. He talked about a 2010 party in Germany that included a sexually suggestive skit involving soldiers dressed up as Sinclair and the captain who was his primary accuser. The testimony showed that rumors were circulating about the affair.

During the skit, the character in the wig "moved in front of the Sinclair character's crotch and offered to do something for him," Bigelow said.

Bigelow said Sinclair's wife attended the party and was "clearly shocked, angered and dismayed." He said the accuser wasn't at the party.

Sinclair's attorney said the general had nothing to do with the skit.

After court Tuesday, defense lawyers released a letter written by Sinclair's wife, Rebecca. In it, she says she hasn't fully forgiven her husband but doesn't want the Army to punish him and his family further.

Lawyers were expected to argue Wednesday whether the letter should be read in her husband's sentencing. Rebecca Sinclair hasn't attended her husband's hearings, but she asks the judge to not punish her and the couple's two sons by taking away significant pension and other benefits.

"Believe me when I tell you that the public humiliation and vilification he has endured are nothing compared to the private suffering and he lives with every day. He is racked with guilt over the pain he has caused me, my children and the Army," Rebecca Sinclair writes.

The Army's case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about whether his primary accuser had lied in a pre-trial hearing. It was further thrown into jeopardy last week when Judge Col. James Pohl said the military may have improperly pressed ahead with the trial to send a message about its determination to curb rape and other widespread misconduct. Under the military code of justice, the decision was supposed to be decided solely on the evidence, not its broader political implications. The judge's decision initiated new plea negotiations.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.